NTCA's Bloomfield on the challenges posed by BEAD

The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program holds exciting potential for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, but there are still wrinkles to iron out, says CEO Shirley Bloomfield.

At a Glance

  • NTCA's priorities, including Universal Service, the USDA's ReConnect program and BEAD (00:40)
  • BEAD has plenty of potential, but there are hiccups that need to be addressed (02:00)
  • Why NTCA is taking a 'fiber-forward' approach to government-subsidized network buildouts (10:15)

In the world of rural broadband, all eyes are on the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program as individual states continue to assemble their plans.

However, BEAD is not the first priority for NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, an organization that represents nearly 850 independent US telecom companies. NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield places a couple of other programs ahead of BEAD: Universal Service and the USDA's ReConnect program.

While BEAD will help to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas, Universal Service is critical due to its focus on affordability, Bloomfield explains in this video recorded last week at Network X Americas in Irving, Texas.  

"We talk a lot about building broadband networks, but what we need to focus on is how do you sustain and make these networks affordable," she explains. "I would say that's job number one for rural broadband providers."

BEAD's potential

But Bloomfield also believes that BEAD has interesting potential for her members, while acknowledging that there are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Challenges include managing through the fragmented, state-by-state approach when it comes to implementation, the critical need for accurate mapping, the challenge process and the need to provide a low-cost option.

Bloomfield is particularly concerned that the challenge process could prove burdensome for rural providers, possibly causing some of them to walk away from BEAD opportunities.

Regarding rural buildout options, Bloomfield says it's good to have technologies such as fixed wireless access (FWA) in the toolkit, but she believes fiber is the right, long-term answer in most instances.

"We are absolutely fiber-forward. We are fiber-centric," she explains. "It is future-proof technology … It's cheaper in the long run to do fiber because you're not coming back in three years, you're not coming back in five years, when there is going to be no more federal support to build these networks."

Here's a snapshot of our discussion (click the closed captioning button in the player for a lightly edited transcript):

  • NTCA's priorities, including Universal Service, the USDA's ReConnect program and BEAD (00:40)

  • BEAD has plenty of potential, but there are some important hiccups that need to be addressed (02:00)

  • Bloomfield says broadband mapping is ever-evolving, highlighting the need for a challenge process that is not overly burdensome to rural service providers (04:30)

  • Impact of the likely end of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and why that could put more emphasis on Universal Service (06:30)

  • Why the NTCA is taking a "fiber-forward" approach to government-subsidized network buildouts (10:15)

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

Pierre Landriau

Video Producer and BBQ Expert, Light Reading

Pierre Landriau, a.k.a. "Le French Producer Extraordinaire," knows his way around B2B video marketing after working at three major UK publishing companies: Haymarket, UBM and now Informa. Pierre edits and produces all of Light Reading's podcasts, maintains that he's listed on IMBD, and claims he once wormed his way into MTV for a day or two.

Pierre is based in London and can be reached at [email protected].

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